Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Remembering Lives Lived

Spotted this short item in the January 5, 2011 edition of the Toronto Sun.

This has been a solemn season for the Maple Leafs alumni with a number of players and coaches passing on in recent months. There have been nine members honoured at recent games, in one or two cases because they were recluses whose deaths were only recently reported. The list includes Murray Armstrong, Eddie Litzenberger, Don Simmons, Aut Erickson, Vic Lynn, Gaye Stewart, Pete Langelle, Bob Hassard and coach Pat Burns.

The one name that caught me off guard was Aut Erickson. I don't recall hearing or reading about his passing. Too often, the media is negligent in spreading the word about former NHL'ers who have died. Perhaps, it is a case of "out of sight, out of mind", but that doesn't really wash.

The players from the Original Six era made a solid contribution towards growing the NHL game. Since there were only six teams, cracking an NHL line-up meant you were one of the best. To participate in even one NHL contest was considered an accomplishment. The AHL was packed with potential big league personnel, and to receive a call-up really meant something.

The trend seems to be to lump all the death notices into one very sketchy story, with very little detail (like the Sun story noted above). I cannot recall the Toronto Star writing of Bob Hassard's death in the sports section. They did print his obituary in the death column, but there was no mention of his hockey career. You would have to do some detective work to determine that it was indeed Bob Hassard, former NHL player. Even at this point, one could be left with some doubt concerning accuracy.

Yet, in the January 8, 2011 Toronto Star, I read about the passing of Uche Okafor (a player on 2 Nigerian World Cup teams) and Gary Mason (a former British boxing champion). Doesn't Bob Hassard, Aut Erickson and others deserve the same acknowledgment? Keep in mind, my beef concerns the print media, not a newspapers Internet website. In the Original Six era, a players career was primarily documented in the sports section of the paper. Thus, in addition to Internet coverage, details of a death should appear in the printed version.


Aut Erickson
 This way, a players life and career is nicely archived from start to finish under one roof. A newspaper archive is the richest source of information one can explore and examine in terms of gathering a complete story. Local or community papers, where a player lived and died, often provide the most detail. Certainly, a major metropolitan daily, in the NHL city where the player performed, could pick-up the story or publish a credited re-write? In salute to the National papers, they are the best at providing a comprehensive look at a deceased players life and professional work.

I had the privilege of meeting Aut Erickson at the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Leafs 1967 Cup win. He was happy to be considered a part of the team (having only played in one playoff game), and making a small contribution towards Toronto's last Cup victory.

The 6'1", 188 lbs, defenceman started his NHL career in the Original Six era with the 1959-60 Boston Bruins. During that season, Erickson scored his first of seven NHL goals. In the 1961 Intra-League draft, he was claimed by the Chicago Black Hawks. After spending 2 partial seasons in Chicago, he was traded to Detroit (June 9, 1964) with Ron Murphy for John Miszuk, Art Stratton and Ian Cushenan. Although he never played a game for the Detroit Red Wings, they did include him in a major swap with the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 20, 1965. The transaction resulted in Erickson achieving the goal every player who pulls an NHL jersey over his head dreams of both night and day.

His time in the Leafs organization was mostly spent with the Victoria Maple Leafs of the WHL. However, as pointed out earlier, in the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, Erickson appeared in one game with the big club. As a result, his name is engraved on the Cup!

With NHL expansion for the 1967-68 season, Erickson was claimed by the Oakland Seals. The final four years of his playing career were split between the Seals and Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHL. In 1970-71 he didn't play, but served as a coach in Phoenix.

His career would come to an end after spinal fusion surgery in January 1970. Erickson's post-hockey life saw him settling in California and working in the aviation industry.

Autry Raymond Erickson was born on January 25, 1938 in Lethbridge, Alberta. He passed away on August 21, 2010.

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